Read The Bard Speaks Online

Authors: Montgomery Mahaffey

Tags: #romance, #erotica, #fantasy, #Fairy Tales; Folk Tales; Legends & Mythology

The Bard Speaks (4 page)

BOOK: The Bard Speaks
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After several weeks of pursuit, the Duchess began to smile at him with warmth. Then she allowed the notorious Rogue close enough to call him friend, her manner charming during their brief chats. The Rogue was convinced he was falling in love. The novelty made him drunk; every word from the lips of the Duchess was the liquor of ecstasy.

He made his move at a masquerade ball in honor of summer solstice. The Duchess never looked more beautiful, a vision in pure white from her gown to her mask. The Rogue recognized her from the veil of auburn hair falling down her back. He saw her slip away from the dancing to take a solitary amble through the gardens. He scanned the room and saw the silver hair of her elderly husband; he was engaged in deep conversation with another nobleman. Relying on the audacity and timing that had always served him well, the Rogue followed the Duchess.

He caught up with her at the gazebo. He was uncertain how he would be received, but the Rogue couldn’t remember the last time he longed so much for a woman. His heart pounding, he removed his mask, approached the Duchess from behind, and spun her around. She was shocked when he pushed her mask over her brow, but he felt surrender in her kiss. The Duchess pulled away and slapped him across his face, her cheeks aflame. The Rogue gripped the hand that struck him and brought her fingers to his lips, declaring love as he had so many times before. But this time was different. This time he believed he’d go mad if she wouldn’t have him. Her lovely features contorted in an agony of resistance and tears streamed from those expressive eyes, but the radiance in her face had to come from the deepest passion. The Rogue thought his heart would burst when the Duchess finally dropped her head and nodded. She did love him.

To his displeasure, their first rendezvous would not be for yet another two weeks. She was stubborn in her refusal to meet him any sooner. Her husband was very kind and the Duchess was fond of him. She hated herself for her betrayal. The Duke would return to the country in two weeks. Her husband had to be away before the Duchess could bring herself to go through with the dishonor that would poison her soul.

“Then why meet with me at all?”

“Because I would betray my heart if I didn’t.”

Their affair was a tempest from the start. The Rogue sensed in the Duchess a kindred spirit. He had never known such hunger for a woman as he had in those months. He grew to despise her husband as a tiresome obstacle who denied the Rogue the passion of his wife. As the social season drew to a close, the couple was uncertain where they would spend autumn and winter. But if they chose the city, the Duke would stay without rest until spring.

The Rogue was tormented thinking about the months he couldn’t see his mistress. He wondered if the Duchess loved him enough to give up her marriage. Then the Rogue thought of his father, who hoped he would marry into the nobility. The illiterate genius wouldn’t be so generous for a connection as this. To be together, the Rogue and the Duchess would be less than common, friendless and destitute. Their situation was hopeless.

But the plague that disturbed the Rogue the most often was neither his father nor the Duke. She was that vicious minx he had met outside the Marquis’ estate. When his affair with the Duchess was at its peak, the vagabond woman reappeared to become his nemesis.

The Duchess always came to the Rogue’s apartments in an unmarked carriage. Her face remained hidden and she refused his touch until they were alone. Then the veils of discretion would fall, and the cyclone of yearning between them would storm. The Rogue thought of nothing but her in those early months. The fiery hair, the flush of luminous skin, and the brown eyes turning black in the peak of ecstasy consumed his imagination.

One afternoon, the Rogue stood at the window from his bedroom, his heart aching as he watched the plain black carriage taking the Duchess away from him. Then a movement below caught his eye. He thought his mind was playing tricks on him when a giant gray stallion trotted down the street. But the girl was the same, staring at him through the glass and laughing, her eyes shining with contempt. He pulled the curtains to shut her out, but she had already invaded his mood. Instead of reminiscing on his afternoon of love, the Rogue was bewildered with an unease he’d never known. He wondered how that strange girl had found him.

After that day, she was always there. Every time he met with the Duchess. For the first time in his life, the Rogue felt alone. He didn’t dare confide to anyone about this, not even his most intimate friend. Seeing his nemesis after a tryst was humiliating, but pride kept him quiet. Desperate to evade her, the Rogue started taking risks, insisting the Duchess make love to him in outrageous places. She resisted at first, only to give in to her lover’s demands, her eyes glowing from the thrill of danger. But the girl was always the first person the Rogue saw after he parted from his mistress. And there was nothing he could do about it.

Summer gave way to autumn, and the Duchess announced she had a perfect solution to the dilemma of separation. She had convinced the Duke to stay in town through the winter, found a private hotel and rented a suite there under an assumed name. The Rogue knew the place well, having been there many times with other mistresses. For the first time, he felt empty when they made love. He was distracted with the familiarity of the rooms, certain he’d been there before with other married women. He pushed such disturbing thoughts from his mind. He loved the Duchess. She loved him. Destiny was cruel. The Rogue held onto these beliefs while he dressed and his mistress prepared her toilette before returning to her husband. He took leave with adieus of tenderness, but his step was heavy when he left.

The girl was outside the hotel. She must have stolen some new clothes: her riding breeches were too big, but otherwise sound. Her creamy blouse was also large, but it was pristine with its sleeves billowing down her arms. The front dipped into her chest, displaying the curve of her long throat. She turned to him with an insolent smile.

The Rogue decided he’d had enough. Instead of avoiding his nemesis, he stopped his horse next to hers. Being this close to her made him uncomfortable. During his long career, he had seduced the most desirable ladies in society, soft women of luxury who smelled of sweet perfume. This girl was a shock to his senses with her animal scent. There was nothing pampered about her. The Rogue had never been afraid of a woman before, but he was unnerved waiting for her to move or speak. She simply stared at him until he broke the silence.

“Why are you following me?” he asked.

“Because I can,” she said.

“As refreshing as it is to have a woman giving chase, I would prefer you stop.”

“Would you, now?”

Her command of his language was impressive, her accent so light he wasn’t certain which country she came from. Her face made that impossible to discern. The Rogue couldn’t stop staring at her. She brought to mind adventures he’d had in seaside towns when he visited pubs filled with angry ruffians, meeting the kind of men who had no use for charm. These were men who spoke with their fists and who felt more at ease in war than peace. If such a man were to be made into a woman, she would be this girl with her brutal features. Her figure was too slender to be fashionable, but her form appealed to him nonetheless. There was strength in her subtle curves— the shadow of breasts teasing behind the cream of her blouse, her long, muscular thighs hugging the flanks of her mount.

When he met her gaze again, he was embarrassed to see the return of her insolent smile.

“Do you like what you see?” she asked.

He was startled at first, but shrugged it off.

“I do. But to be honest, you’re not my taste.”

She smiled and looked into the windows of the hotel. When she spoke again, her voice was taunting.

“That which is savory today,” she said, “will taste bitter tomorrow.”

“What?”

“Do you really believe you’re the first?”

The meaning behind her hint sunk its claws into the Rogue, and he was relieved to feel wrath surging within him. Ire liberated the Rogue from the fear that had gripped him on his approach.

“What are you trying to say?”

“What do you think?” she replied, and nodded to the apartments he just left. “Her husband knows all about you, just like he’s known about the others.”

“You filthy liar!”

“Don’t pretend to be such a naïf, or were you so easily duped? A man like you!”

The Rogue found it impossible to believe such a girl could have any information about the Duchess.

“How do you know?” he asked.

“I was acquainted with one of her former lovers.”

“And how did you manage a connection like that?”

“The same way I made yours.”

For months, her presence was a torment. Every time he saw that girl after a rendezvous, the Rogue was reminded he had lost his freedom.

“What do you want from me?”

“Nothing you’ve ever made good use of, ” the girl chuckled. “But that’s not my point, Rogue. It is I who has what you want, and I’m here for you.”

“I want you to stop following me,” he said. “If I ever see you again I will report you to the asylum. And I’ll make certain you stay locked up.”

“As you wish,” she said. “But you will want to see me again.”

The girl kicked her mount into a canter and left. The Rogue stared down the avenue long after she disappeared from view.

He met with his mistress once more after that day. He started avoiding places where it was likely he would see the Duke and his wife. For the first time, the Duchess had to call for her lover, sending a note on rose-colored paper with her perfume as signature. The Rogue came to her. But he looked into her sparkling brown eyes and remembered that she loved theatre more than opera. Then all he saw was a gifted actress playing her favorite role. He looked around the suite of a hotel that accommodated the indiscretions of the noble, and knew the Duchess had taken other lovers in these rooms. He could almost hear her crying the same words to another in the same anguished rapture that had overcome his better sense. He realized he’d been seduced into a fantasy of love in much the same manner he lured his debutantes hungry for an intrigue.

The Rogue was appalled to recognize how much the Duchess was his kindred spirit. His refined sense of irony made it possible to leave the room with dignity, but he turned back when he opened the door. The Duchess was flushed and her eyes narrowed. At least she hadn’t foreseen her abandonment. The Rogue closed the door behind him, and the only illusion he ever cherished in his life was destroyed.

Outside the hotel, he looked up and down the street, and realized he was searching for his nemesis. She was good for her word, but he found no relief in her absence.

For weeks, the Rogue refused all invitations. Alarmed, a group of friends appeared at his apartments one evening and insisted he accompany them to the theatre. They promised him a comedy to lift his spirits.

He was too tired to resist and allowed himself to be led. But his mood was not to be cheered. The grayness of his mind dulled his instincts, for he should have known better than to go to the theatre. The Duchess was there, resplendent in a gown of midnight velvet, her expression serene. She was as alluring as ever and very gracious, kissing him on both cheeks with affection. Before intermission closed, the Rogue saw her give the look of promise to a handsome young man in a military uniform. Her new conquest looked surprised and delighted. She swept her gaze away with impeccable timing, just as she had with him. The Duchess caught him watching, and smiled at him with a wink. The Rogue raised his glass to her, drowning bitterness with champagne.

“So much for love,” he muttered.

His melancholia was worse the next morning. He didn’t bother getting out of bed that day. His bleak humor endured through the autumn, and he lost all interest in society.

Every time the Rogue was introduced to a nobleman’s beautiful wife or a fresh-faced girl out in her first season, he could see the anticipation in their eyes. He cursed himself a fool that he didn’t see it before. The women were ready to betray their husbands; the debutantes were willing to be seduced. His disgust was apparent and invitations stopped coming. But he didn’t mind. Had his mind not been obsessed with that vagabond girl, honesty would have unshackled him.

She haunted his dreams and his heart ached for the essence of freedom she possessed. The Rogue hadn’t forgotten she was vicious: a huntress stalking her prey. Yet when he thought of his former mistresses with their corsets and bustles, their well-bred conversation and sparkling laughter, they seemed ridiculous. Then he remembered the effort he made in his pretense of love, and knew he was no less absurd. The vagabond girl showed him his life was a mockery, and he knew he wouldn’t have to pretend with her. He wouldn’t have to hold himself back with a tenderness he didn’t feel. He would be able to free the animal wanting that had been inside him all along. That girl would be able to take it and give it back.

“You will want to see me again,” she said.

Her last words to him were a torture to remember. His eyes searched for her everywhere, but she was nowhere to be seen.

One gray day in early winter, he strolled in a park near his apartments when a hesitant touch on his arm distracted him from his gloom. The Rogue turned to face the tearful eyes of the Debutante. He hadn’t seen her since their last night together.

“I beg your pardon,” she whispered, bowing her head. “I haven’t seen you for such a long time.”

The Rogue hadn’t thought of the girl in months, but he suddenly remembered he never received word of her engagement. Her sad voice and delicate sobs were his resurrection, and the Rogue knew what to do and say. He removed his glove and crooked his finger under her chin, pulling her face to meet his so he could wipe her tears. He admitted he’d been despicable and was so sorry for hurting her. He wasn’t worthy of her, but he would give his soul if she offered him another chance. When the Debutante nodded, the Rogue knew he’d been redeemed. In that moment, the same mention of marriage that had once driven him away seemed appealing. He remembered that the Marquis seemed to like him quite well.

BOOK: The Bard Speaks
3.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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